It took Gaby Calderón a year before she could accept the fact that she was gay.
Seventeen at the time, the Peruvian felt isolated in the Catholic-dominated society with only an outsider’s view of the Lima LGBT community. With no local resources available, she had to rely on websites and information from outside the country to help her navigate her feelings.
“Before 2014, it was really taboo to talk about it,” explains Gaby. “It made the whole community invisible. There was no information and it was almost a childhood fear to even look for it.”
Mustering all her courage, Gaby began stepping out of her comfort zone. What she discovered would change her life forever.
“I started going to gay clubs and realized that we weren’t a small community, but we were in the shadows. Lima was a place where most of us lived unseen - we were invisible to the rest of society. It didn’t feel right. When I first started going to gay places, I felt like I was doing something wrong.”
It was that unsettling feeling that spurred her into action and into the heart of LGBT activism in Perú.
Gaby says that the real movement began in 2012 when Peruvian LGBT groups started banding together for recognition and to raise awareness.
“It started first with gay people becoming more proud and with less fear to express themselves. The community started getting stronger every day.”
Taking a Very Public Stand
For Gaby personally, her work would quickly become one of the most public projects in the country.
A friend named Marianella Castro Robles decided to bring a visual component to LGBT life in Lima. She gathered a group of people together, and in each meeting, they developed a more complete idea of what the project could be. Other people joined, and soon they came up with the idea for La Mezcla - the first visible producer of LGBT content in Lima.
“We wanted to do a mini-series. We wanted to film the different places where gay people gathered. People hang out where gay people go. They don’t always go to gay clubs. We wanted to show people where the gay community was and what they were doing. We wanted to show how many successful gay people there are.”
A YouTube-based series entitled Buscando Té was born and has received tens of thousands of views. Other videos feature all the happenings on the Lima LGBT scene and all content has a playful and friendly undertone.
Continuing the Fight
Although LGBT equality in Peru has made leaps and bounds over the last four years, Gaby and her team realize there is still a long way to go. In March, a congressional committee voted down a bill that would have allowed civil unions between same-sex couples. Their hope for equal rights, however, has not been dashed.
“I feel optimistic definitely,” says Gaby enthusiastically. “We are going to put out a new project before the elections happen next year. People are going to put more gay people and pro LGBT rights people into politics. That’s what we want to do. It’s going to work.”
But while, that fight is on the horizon, Gaby is celebrating the victories already at-hand.
“Now with all these campaigns and information, gay people can look for or ask for help. They aren’t lonely anymore. They can be out. They can be free.” Check out their ongoing work on YouTube.
The featured image is Dann Toliver